Alcohol drinking in light-to-moderate amounts has been associated with reduced coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. However, there is evidence that the way people consume alcohol (drinking pattern) may affect risk. Central adiposity, a known CHD risk factor may be one mechanism in the pathway between alcohol consumption and CHD risk. Our study examined whether various drinking patterns differentially affect fat distribution, particularly abdominal fat in women and men. In a randomly selected population-based cohort (n = 2343), 35-79 y old, we assessed drinking pattern as reported for the past 30 d, including beverage type and amount, frequency of consumption, percentage of time drinking while eating and number of drinks consumed/drinking day. Central adiposity was determined using an abdominal caliper to measure supine height of the abdomen. Current drinkers tended to have smaller abdominal heights than nondrinkers (women, P < 0.0001; men, P = 0.0559). For drinking pattern, frequency was inversely associated, but drinking intensity (drinks/drinking day) was positively associated with central adiposity in women (P trend for frequency, 0.0007; intensity, 0.0010) and men (P trend for frequency, 0.0005; intensity, 0.0004), even when age, education, physical activity, smoking status and amount of alcohol (g) were included in the models. When frequency and intensity were considered together, daily drinkers of <1 drink/drinking day had the smallest mean abdominal height measures with the largest measures in less than weekly drinkers who consumed 4 or more drinks/drinking day. These results support the hypothesis that drinking pattern affects the distribution of body fat, an important CHD risk factor.